Todd Gralla is about to make the journey to London for the Olympic Games. He's worked toward this moment for three years, conquering every challenge put in his way and pushing the limits of what men have done before.
No, Gralla is not an athlete. He's a facility designer.
Gralla, who works for the architectural firm Populous, helped design the Olympic equestrian stadium in London. He's part of a two-man team with Charlie Kolarik in the firm's Norman office.
It's not the biggest facility the Norman horse farm owner has ever worked on — he said it pales in comparison to the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds — but it's still breaking records.
The 26,000-seat stadium, built in London's Greenwich Park, holds more people than any equestrian facility in the history of the modern Olympic Games, Gralla said.
The stadium is also the first 100 percent temporary Olympic equestrian facility, he said.
No white elephants
Because Greenwich Park is a royal park, Kansas City, Mo.-based Populous had to design a stadium that could not only be taken down after the games, but that would leave no mark on the historic grounds.
Gralla said Populous, which designed several London Olympic facilities, made an effort to keep this year's Games from being a burden to its host city. The firm didn't want to leave behind huge arenas that would be expensive to maintain and impossible to fill.
“We don't want white elephants left in London,” Gralla said.
Designing a zero-impact stadium was an architectural challenge, he said. The ground at Greenwich Park is not level, and Populous would not be allowed to level it for the Olympic Games.
To create the perfectly level field required for the equestrian events, the firm designed a flat platform to stand a few feet off the ground.
The platform had to be stable enough to withstand not only London's frequent rain, but also the shock of a 1,500-pound horse landing a two-meter jump. Gralla said some of the designers were worried at first.
“But it's so secure that there weren't any problems with it,” he said.
Adapting the stadium to fit Greenwich Park's needs was challenging, but worthwhile, Gralla said. The park is within the city, which means Londoners who rely on public transportation can easily travel to it.
Plus, the park is just south of the Queen's House, commissioned by Anne of Denmark in the 17th century and now used as a museum. The stadium is open on that side to give the audience a view.
“It's a spectacular setting,” Gralla said.
A decade of work
When Gralla travels this weekend to London to make sure the equestrian facility is holding up the way it should, it will be the culmination of nearly a decade of Populous involvement with the 2012 Olympic Games.
Populous, which has a substantial London office, helped the city obtain a bid from the International Olympic Committee in 2003. The firm has worked steadily since then to design several Olympic and Paralympic venues, including upgrades to Wembley Stadium and Wimbledon.
Populous also designed the main Olympic Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field events.
The equestrian stadium took five months to construct, and it will come down within 60 days of the closing ceremonies, Gralla said. Despite the fact that his work won't be a permanent fixture in London, Gralla said he's honored to be part of an international phenomenon.
Gralla said he's impressed by how many people in Oklahoma City are affected by the London Games — from local athletes who see their dreams come to fruition to the Norman designers who do the same.
“I think it's pretty amazing the impact the Olympics has,” Gralla said.